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Inspired by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and infuriated by the increasing authoritarianism of Moscow, a group of Russians in the northwestern corner of the country is calling for the restoration of the economic and political values and, eventually, even the territory of medieval Novgorod.
In the last few weeks, this idea has attracted increasing attention in the Russian Federation. Most commentators have dismissed it as the harmless product of overheated intellectual discussions, but others are taking it more seriously either as a source of ideas that could help Russian society transform itself or as a genuine threat to the Russian state.
The idea of a Novgorod alternative to Moscow's approach to economic development, political organization, and foreign links has been much discussed over the last few years (see the survey of such discussions and their sources in the December 2004 "Neva," http://magazines.russ.ru/neva/2004/12/kav7-pr.html).
But the notion that Novgorod should be restored or at least define Russia's future has received heightened attention after the appearance last month on a variety of websites of what could be called the "declaration of independence of the Republic of Northern Rus" (http://www.livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=ru_sever).
That document reads, in part: "We, the citizens of the free Novgorod Republic, which was illegally annexed by the Muscovite tsars in 1471-1479, declare that we do not recognize the Muscovite occupation regime whether it is tsarist, Soviet, 'democratic,' or presidential. We consider the territory of the Novgorod Republic to be occupied at the present time and we consider illegal the conduct on its territory of any elections, military draft, or tax collections.
The authors of this declaration continue: "As our final goal, we put the formation of a Republic of Northern Rus in the historical borders of the Novgorod Republic and call upon all interested citizens -- regardless of their nationality or political convictions -- and organizations to join our liberation movement."
And this document, which on 22 March attracted the attention
of a Moscow website (http://www.apn.ru), may gain even more readers
now that one of its authors has suggested a possible symbol for the
new republic: two children warming their hands over a fire under
Russia's two-headed eagle
But if that symbol may have been offered more in fun than anything else, the ideas of those behind this movement are both serious and already having a broader impact. As one of its leaders points out in an article titled "Will Russia Follow the Novgorod Path?" Novgorod represents a clear alternative future for Russia. (http://sever.inache.net/novgorod.html)
Medieval Novgorod, Aleksandr Vertyachikh notes, was an open society based on trade and production, and the region, which five centuries ago extended from Smolensk in the south to the White Sea in the north and from Ivangorod nearly to Moscow, viewed itself as part of Europe.
In that regard the city stood in sharp contrast to Muscovy, a region that was based on the ever-more extensive exploitation of natural resources and people and that was controlled by a militarized state that had more in common with despotic Oriental states than with the Europe of that day or this.
As a result, Vertyachikh points out, Muscovy saw medieval Novgorod as a threat to its power and destroyed Novogorod at the end of the 15th century with consequences that Russians and their neighbors still have to live with.
He suggests that there are two possible vectors for the future of Russia: one in the Muscovite direction that would involve attempts to restore an empire and virtually guarantee that Russia would remain a backward and despotic state cut off from Europe, and a second following in the tradition of Novgorod that would allow the country to democratize and become prosperous by trade and other contacts with the outside world.
Other supporters of the Novgorod alternative have made
similar arguments either on their own
(http://www.gif.ru/themes/culture/russia-2/engine) or on websites maintained by the Novgorod enthusiasts like New World-Northern Civilization (http://sever.inache.net), whose website includes links to books produced by this group, or Polar Circle (http://www.newpk.ru ).
And supporters of this idea have even begun to take some concrete steps. Perhaps the most interesting is the decision this month by the Saami people of the Kola peninsula to copy the experiences of their co-ethnics abroad and organize a national parliament independent of existing state structures. (http://www.finugor.ru/news/index.html?date=20031001).
Some of this certainly reflects the antagonism people on peripheries often feel toward the central authorities. As one critic of the Novgorod alternative suggested, in the Russian Federation today, Russophobia is being replaced in the regions by Moscowphobia, an attitude reflected in the joke suggesting some Russians watch "Street Patrol" because it features dead Muscovites (http://www.apn.ru/?chapter_name=print_advert&data_id=411&do=view_sin gle).
The same APN author argues that this latest episode of "Russian separatism" has its roots in the late Soviet period when Russians asked why their republic did not have many of the same institutions that other union republics did. Now, he suggests, Russians in the provinces are asking why they don't have what Moscow does.
And at least some of them, he continues, believe that they would be able to acquire what Moscow has most easily by breaking away from the Russian Federation and somehow joining Europe. That attitude currently takes the form of declarations like the one mentioned above or in a turn to local or pagan ideas, the APN writer says.
But, over time, these ideas -- which he says flourish not only in the northwestern part of the country but in Siberia and the Far East as well -- could grow into a genuine threat to the integrity of the country as a whole. And he points out something else: the local populations will portray themselves as more truly Russian than Moscow and the Russian state currently are, something that may allow them to tap into at least one segment of Russian nationalist opinion.
Because of this risk and the possibility that the Novgorod
alternative or some other Russian region could become an ethnic
Russian Chechnya, some Russian writers are suggesting that Moscow
should make concessions to defuse the situation, but others say that
Moscow must crush it
At the very least, these ideas on Russia's periphery deserve greater attention and, at the same time, their advocates need to remember the warning one participant in an Internet chatroom offered them: They need to be "vigilant because little Moscow will be listening in" (http://forum.visp.ru/viewtopic.php?id=2323).
INTERNATIONAL RING SAID TO HAVE SMUGGLED UKRAINIAN MISSILES TO CHINA, IRAN. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmytro Svystkov told journalists on 30 March that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has detected and "neutralized" an international group of arms smugglers from Russia, Ukraine, and Australia who illegally supplied 12 X-55 missiles to China and Iran in 2000-01 under the pretext of exporting them to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005), Interfax reported. Svystkov added that "in May-June 2001, citizens of Ukraine and Australia, using faked documents, illegally exported to Iran six more X-55 missiles and equipment for their maintenance on behalf of the Rosvooruzhenie state company." Svystkov noted that prosecutors launched a "number of criminal proceedings" in connection with the missile smuggling, adding that two involved smugglers died in road accidents in 2002 and 2004. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM IN FALL. President Viktor Yushchenko said on 29 March that he is in favor of raising the efficiency of local self-government through introducing relevant constitutional amendments by this fall, Interfax reported. Yushchenko also stressed that he supports the political reform adopted by parliament in December to switch the country from its current presidential system to a parliamentary one (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 December 2005). The reform bill will take effect on 1 September if parliament adopts a bill on reforming the self-governing system prior to that date or, failing such passage, it will automatically go into effect on 1 January 2006. JM